Achieving Effective Learning in Engineering Laboratory Classes

Achieving Effective Learning in Engineering Laboratory Classes

M. McAfee, P. Armstrong, G. Cunningham (2009).  Achieving Effective Learning in Engineering Laboratory Classes. 8.

This investigation looks at how effective lab classes are in the Mechanical Engineering courses at Queen‟s University Belfast in the context of modern approaches to engineering education. The laboratory program here is of a traditional type, where students work through a number of separate three-hour lab classes associated with their engineering science modules over the semester. The laboratory exercises (29 in total) are grouped according to whether they are „demonstrations‟; „controlled exercises‟ or a „structured investigation‟ (a more open exercise where students must plan all or part of the experiments). Student feedback was sought on each of the exercises to evaluate how effective the learning had been in each case. The majority of labs, as with most traditional programs, are controlled investigations and these varied in the extent of active learning and exposure to problemsolving or real-life application. The student feedback correlated strongly with the degree of active learning and relationship of the exercise to a real engineering problem.

The laboratory evaluation also examined more generic „aids‟ and „barriers‟ to effective learning in lab classes. The effectiveness of the lab demonstrator/facilitator was clearly highlighted as being an extremely important factor to the student learning experience. Another issue which clearly impacts on the motivation of the students to learn is the nature of the lab assessment. In most cases students are required merely to follow the steps given by the manual/demonstrator so there is very little opportunity to assess students‟ contribution and skills. As a result, there is very little divergence in the individual marks allocated to students and little motivation for the students to actively engage in understanding/analysis/discussion of the lab.

Using the results of the student feedback and evaluation, general practice in setting-up a laboratory exercise has been identified and suggestions given for future improvement over a traditional lab programme.

Authors (New): 
Marion McAfee
P. J. Armstrong
Geoffrey Cunningham
Queen's University Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
lab classes
Active learning
reflective learning
Constructive alignment
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